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Welcome back to sitcom cliches where we look at tired and often overused cliche’s in sitcoms and other genre’s


Today I wanted to discuss another common trope that was a favorite of mine over the years. When an actor on a series plays a different character than the one they usually play. This one is as old as the hills, and why not? It’s always fun to see an actor stretch their wings and play a character different from the one we are familiar with seeing week after week. When done well, you hardly even realize it’s the same person! Often these dual roles are used to show the character we do love in a different light, and in the end maybe understand them a little better. And other times it’s just a stunt to get people to watch.
Whatever the case, here are some examples of the split screen effect being beaten to death:
The Patty Duke Show
This may be the standard setter. Patty Duke played twin sisters Cathy and Patty in this quirky sitcom. “They’re cousins…identical cousins all the way!” Only on TV can cousins, from totally different parents, be identical! I mean really, how does that work? Some shows are smart enough to put a little make-up on one and say they “look alike”, but identical? No. But I do love how the theme song to this show tells you all you need to know about these two characters. Cathy is the quieter one while Patty loves to party. Nice when a theme song does that. I have nothing against Patty Duke but I never watched this series.

Bewitched/I Dream of Jeannie/The Addams Family
I lumped these three together because they all did the same thing. They put a wig on the main actress and had them play their twin sister. On Bewitched, Elizabeth Montgomery got to play Serena who was more fun loving than Sam. On Jeanie,Barbara Eden got to play Jeannie’s her sister who had the same name would often appear to cause trouble and was more evil than Serena was. And on The Addams Family Carolyn Jones got to wear a blonde wig to play the sister of Morticia, named Ophelia who was a flower child.
My Three Sons
Fred MacMurray played both Steve Douglas and his Scottish cousin Fergus McBain Douglas
The Beverly Hillbillies
This one is a little different. Max Baer Jr. played both Jethro Bodine and his sister Jethrine. The actor wore the blonde wig but the dialogue was added by an actual female later on.
The Brady Bunch
I already talked about how Anne B Davis got to effectively play Alice’s Aunt Emma in one episode. In another, Robert Reed and Florence Hendeson got to play Mike and Carol’s grandparents. While Reed got lost in the role as Grandpa Brady, Henderson was obvious as the grandmother though she did a decent job. But the series is best know for the horribly contrived episode where Peter meets his double. Christopher Knight only wore glasses to differentiate the two characters, and the episode has the two trying to trick two girls they liked. It was lame, it was forced, and it set a standard that made these kinds of dual roles contrived if done half hearted.
Gilligans Island
This one fascinates me. How can a show about a bunch of people stranded on an island possibly lend itself to stories about doppelgangers? But they did, not once but three times! Bob Denver played a Soviet spy alongside his Gilligan character; Jim Backus played both Thurston Howell III and an impostor; Tina Louise played both Ginger and look a like Eva Grubb in one memorable episode. All three doppelgangers join the list of many people who find the island and the castaways, and not only manage to escape somehow but it is a given will never tell anyone the group ison that island! This show was a real tease.
Happy Days
Al Molinaro played both Big Al and Father Delvecchio. I am actually amazed there aren’t more examples from this series. However, Cindy Williams did play a dual role in an episode of Laverne & Shirley!
In one of the more surreal examples, Andy Kaufman got to show he was capable of more than Latka when a split personality creates the alter ego Vic. Vic is basically Kaufman as he really is, and totally different from the lovable Latka. Vic returns a few times before a counseling session with Doctor Joyce Brothers eliminated him.


Where do I begin with this show? As you know I loved this show, but man could it get goofy. In one episode, the governor is replaced by a lookalike who is working for the government. James Noble played the double as dead serious unlike the goofy real governor. This episode is one of the more absurd of the series. In another episode, we find out the German Kraus has a lookalike who hails from Texas, with a big Texas accent and everything! Nice to see Inga Swenson could do more than play German but the episode was so bad! When the double cuts out before a big deal can be made, Kraus has to pretend to be her double. Hijinks ensue. But the most surreal episode had to be when Rene Auberjonois character Clayton has a mental breakdown and believes he is Benson. This technically doesn’t count, but the actor does such a great job embodying the character of Benson I decided to include.
Small Wonder
Vicky had an evil duplicate called Vanessa. Think of Lore on TNG and you get the idea. She acts more like a disobedient child, has emotions, and of course is evil. Tiffany Brissette must have enjoyed getting to smile for once. She actually returned for the series final episode.
There was one memorable episode where Rhea Pearlman plays Carla’s promiscuous sister Annette who hits on everyone in the bar-including Cliff!
Full House
One of my favorites. Jesse comes home from Greece with his cousin Stavros. Give Full House credit, they put a lot of make-up on John Stamos so while there was a resemblance to Jesse he still looked different. And Stavros has a thick accent and acted very different than Jesse. Stavros was a con man and a hustler who gets his just deserves in the end. I think he was supposed to represent Jesse if he hadn’t straightened out, but the episode never really gets into that. It was Full House after all.
Mama’s Family
I’ve noticed that in these articles on overused cliche’s certain shows ALWAYS pop up. This is another. In one episode Thelma is visited by her snobbish cousin. It is nice to see Vicki Lawrence get to play someone other than Mama for once but the episode falls flat for some reason.
Family Matters
Where do I begin? Steve Urkel was the most popular character on the show, so it only stood to reason we would get Jaleel White in a dual role eventually. At first, it was clever when he played Steve’s female cousin Myrtle. I really liked that episode. It was still ok when Steve became the cool jerk Stefan Urquel. But then things got forced, when Steve was able to make Stephan be his own person. Myrtle reappeared and then there were bizarre episodes where Steve and Carl played ninjas, pirates, and who knows what else.


Jackee Harry was Sandra Clark, a flirtatious type who was always outspoken. So when we meet her cousin from South America, we get Jackee playing a very introverted and shy person. Then the cousin’s finacee confuse the two…and hijinks ensue!
A Different World
You know, it must be some kind of rule. If you have a character with a funny accent or who is very outspoken, you have to have the actress play a cousin or relative who does not have the accent and/or is completely introverted! That’s what happened in one episode where Whitley has to put up with her cousin, of course!. Liza was of course played by Jasmine Guy with very large teeth and a much softer accent. She was also hornier than Whitley was, not to mention a golddigger.
Ilene Graff played the perky Marcia Owens on this series. In one memorable episode she had the chance to flex her muscles a bit, by playing her own legal client, a psycho who was locked up behind bars and just happened to look just like Marcia! The psycho then switched places with Marcia, leaving her stuck in prison while the criminal attempted to steal from the Ownes family. This episode tries to make the case that it’s possible everyone has an identical twin somewhere, forgetting that Biology makes that impossible. At least the series seemed to be aware of how silly this whole thing really is, by making it a dream in the end. Even Mr.Belevedere himself gets into the act in the tag.


Who’s The Boss?
In one of the better episodes of the last season, Angela and Mona go to a health club to get a break from Tony. There, they meet someone who looks remarkably like Tony, or “that guy from Taxi”. It’s just Tony Danza wearing a cheezy mustache of course. The doppelganger may look like Tony, but is much more reserved making Angela realize that it is Tony that she loves, flaws and all.


Growing Pains
This one was definitely original. The youngest Seaver, Chrissy, makes up an imaginary friend in one episode, a six foot tall mouse named Ike. It turns out she was missing Mike, and after she gets to spend time with him she realizes she doesn’t need Ike so much after all. The cool part was that Kirk Cameron actually played Ike, with a prosthetic mouse nose and everything!
Empty Nest
There was one clever episode where Richard Mulligan got to play three roles. His usual role as Harry, a snooty English butler, and an old English madame who hits on Charlie.
Perfect Strangers
Bronson Pinchot has a lot of talent. In one episode he played Balki’s cousin who had a California accent. But an even more impressive role came later on when Pinchot played Balki’s Mama, wearing a lot of make-up and a big fat suit.


This show took advantage of Lisa Kudrow’s role on Mad About You by making Phoebe and Ursula identical twin sisters. They interacted in several episodes, the first one even including a clever nod to the Patty Duke Show. David Schwimmer also got into the act in one episode, playing Rachel’s new boyfriend Russ. The gag was only Rachel didn’t seem to realize that Russ was pretty much exactly like Ross (though he looked a bit different).
3rd Rock From the Sun
This show wasn’t even a year old when they took advantage of what a fine actor John Lithgow was. In one episode Dick is replaced as high commander by another who looks just like him. Except that this version is mean and evil, a stark contrast to the goofy and likable Dick. Not only does he take Dick’s place but he traps Dick in the basement!


Sabrina, The Teenage Witch
It was revealed that the family secret for the Spellman’s was that every member of the family has a twin. And one is always evil. So we met Sabrina’s twin Katrina (Melissa Joan Hart of course, with more eye make-up and a nasty disposition) who of course turned out to be the evil one. She came back to cause trouble for Sabrina a few more times, and we also got to meet Aunt Zelda’a evil twin.
The Nanny
This show just loved breaking the fourth wall. In one episode, Fran Drescher, who played Fran Fine on the series, appears as her character from This is Spinal Tap, Bobbi Fleckman. Of course in the episode Fran ends up switching places with Bobbi. Not surreal enough? How about the episode where Fran Fine met Fran Drescher? How does that even work?
How I Met Your Mother
Talk about taking this trope as far as it can go. This show did whole episodes all about the gang discovering their doppelgangers! Each member of the group had a twin and they were : Lesbian Robin, Mustache Marshall, Stripper Lily, Mexican Wrestler Ted, and Fertility Doctor Barney. I think the names speak for themselves. It’s a long story but there is a story behind all of these characters. You know I think this show is a little weird.
Of course drama’s do this also, even more so and often for the same reasons. One of my favorite examples was an episode of Father Dowling Mysteries. Tom Bosley starred, and in one episode not only does he do a great job at being Father Dowling’s evil brother, but he also plays the evil brother pretending to be Father Dowling…and does a great job of making the character act like Dowling while also clearly being a different person! Tom Bosley was a fantastic actor. Other examples from the world of drama include Data and Lore from Star Trek TNG…. Liberace in the old Batman TV series…Linda Evans on Dynasty,.. Dr.Smith from Lost in Space…Dick Van Dyke on Diagnosis:Murder,… Bill Bixby on The Incredible Hulk played a criminal who reselbled David Banner… Knight Rider had David Hasselhoff as an evil double for Michael and there was also an evil double for KITT, called KARR!….One of my favorite episodes of Dukes of Hazard had a criminal pretend to be Rosco giving James Best a chance to be serious for one episode. Plastic surgery created the double, how does that work? How can plastic surgery change things like eye color, bone structure, and the voice? Plastic surgery also created an evil double of Lois Lane on Lois & Clark…Buffy and Xena had a few dual roles…and there have been more “evil twins” on soap operas than I could even count!
And yes, movies do this to. Mike Myers played several characters in the Austin Powers films… Michael J Fox played Marty old and his two children in Back to the Future 2…. Eddie Murphy made a career playing multiple roles in the same movie…. Lee Marvin won an oscar for his dual role in Cat Ballou, in fact Westerns were crazy for this often with the actor playing the hero and the villain. I couldn’t begin to list them all… The Parent Trap had Haley Mills as twin sisters Susan and Sharon, Lindsay Lohan in the remake…. Mel Brooks played two roles in Spaceballs and they were both funny…. George Burns played God and the Devil in Oh God, You Devil!… Tom Hanks played five roles in The Polar Express…. And of course my favorite example from film, in Mary Poppins Dick Van Dyke not only played Bert but the old bank director Mr.Dawes Sr. To this day I remember my reaction at realizing that little bit of trivia!
Of course a dual role does not guarantee a good movie, or did you not see Adam Sandler in Jack & Jill?
This is still very much around, as the series Once Upon A Time has already seen several. Yes dual roles wont be going anywhere soon. It’s always nice to give an actor a chance to spread their wings, as long as it’s done well and not a silly contrivance.
I am sure I missed some memorable examples, so please feel free to comment with your favorites  :)

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